It was impossible. It was a pipedream. It could, never, never happen. Bradford City reach a domestic cup final? League Two Bradford City? Don’t be so ridiculous.
Yet here we are heading towards the end of January and the West Yorkshire outfit are, against all the insurmountable odds, 90 minutes away from a Wembley Capital One Cup final next month.
How this has happened is one of the most endearing domestic stories of recent years – for so long, Bradford have been sliding further and further down the football pyramid as their finances became perilously close to finishing the club once and for all.
But at last, Bantams supporters are having their moment in the sun and their team go to Villa Park to face Aston Villa in the semi-final second leg with a 3-1 lead to hold on to grimly.
It is a fully deserved 3-1 lead, too, and Carl McHugh’s 88th-minute goal at Valley Parade, scored just six minutes after Villa had cut the deficit to 2-1, could prove to be one of the most important goals in the club’s history.
What failure to overturn their 3-1 arrears will mean for Aston Villa is unknown, but to get knocked out of the cup by a fourth-tier side over two legs could have ramifications for manager Paul Lambert and his team’s bid to avoid relegation to the Championship.
Because that looks a distinct possibility given Villa’s woeful form and it says everything about their plight that 3/20 about a Villans win is no price whatsoever, even against League Two opposition.
Bradford are 27/4 to claim an incredible double over Villa and storm into the final and 4/1 to attain the draw that will also see them secure their place at Wembley next month.
Trying to assess Bradford’s form is irrelevant. The Bantams have lost four of the last six, conceding four goals at Rochdale and Crewe Alexandra, and in fact, their only victory in their last half-dozen games was the historic win in the first leg at Valley Parade.
Other than remind you that City are a League Two team that will go through dodgy spells of form as much as any other side will do in the bottom tier, it just highlights what a different occasion the Villa match is for the management, players and fans.
It is common for lower-league teams to take their eye off the ball in the league when on a fine cup run as the bread-and-butter matches suddenly seem mundane.
And that is exactly what Parkinson’s side have done, winning just one of the nine matches since knocking out Arsenal in the last eight.
Compare that to their run of just two defeats in their 15 matches before taking on the Gunners and you can see that Bradford have, subconsciously or not, put all of their efforts into the Capital One Cup, meaning this will not be a walkover for Villa, who have won just one of their last eight games (at home to Championship Ipswich Town in the FA Cup).
So I don’t want to back a Villa side who have won just two league games at Villa Park this term and who have let in 24 goals in eight matches, but I don’t see Bradford showing a great deal of ambition with a two-goal advantage to hang on to, as history shows that teams with two and three-goal leads often get stuck tactically in the second leg, unsure whether to contain or attack and often doing neither.
What I think I will do, though, is back Christian Benteke to score first at 3/1, which would provide potential winnings of £80 for new bwin customers using their free £20 bet after registering.
The Belgium international had been going through a lean spell of late but roared back into form with a fine display and a stunning goal in the 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday – his tenth goal of the campaign.
Benteke already has three League Cup goals to his name and he can show his personal superiority over the Bradford defence with the opening goal.